Call to ensure rights, welfare of toiling people

Kathmandu, March 29

With governments around the world rushing to contain the further spread of COVID-19, often with restrictive lockdown measures, 119 organisations from 30 countries, including Nepal and five global regions, today called for assertion of the rights and welfare of the rural and all toiling people.

In a joint statement issued today, the groups stressed that the rural people were among the most vulnerable to impacts of COVID-19 pandemic. The statement was released to mark the annual ‘Day of the Landless’, which various groups use to highlight the issues and struggles of peasant communities. The statement was endorsed by three organizations of Nepal — All Nepal Peasants’ Federation, Community Self Reliance Centre and National Campaign for Sustainable Development.

“We mark the Day of the Landless today with utmost concern as landless rural people have been among the most vulnerable to the impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic. With them are the small farmers with precarious land ownership or control, and those from landless peasant families forced to work as casual labourers in agricultural plantations and engage in hard labour and odd jobs or as so-called informal workers in urban areas,” read the statement.

According to the organisations, the extreme quarantine measures have also shut down in some cases, even local marketplaces where small farmers often bring and sell their produce. As a consequence, even when they are allowed to till and harvest, hapless farmers are left with truckloads of unsold grains, vegetables and fruits.

The situation has exposed them even more to opportunistic and exploitative traders, who buy their produce at depressed prices.

Specifically, the groups outlined a five-point demand to protect the rights of rural people amid the pandemic.They demanded that governments ensure the lockdowns and quarantines are not carried out at the expense of the food security of the people, and that the right to produce and earn a living for small farmers, fishermen and other direct food producers is duly respected.

They also called on for immediate and substantial economic relief (including food grains, cash, and other forms of aid that are essential and appropriate) and social protection that are readily accessible to the marginalized sectors, including the landless rural people, as well as other forms of government assistance such as production and marketing support for small food producers.

“The governments should also ensure that no further displacements of the rural people from their lands and livelihood are carried out on the pretext of COVID-19 lockdown and allot sufficient public resources to the health sector and make reliable public healthcare services without delay or difficulty for everyone, including the rural communities,” the statement read.

On social media, the groups initiated the #ThankYouFarmers as a show of appreciation and support to farmers around the world who continue to produce food and feed the people, despite COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictive lockdowns. Netizens were asked to post pictures of their food and share on social media.